Places to Love in New Zealand with Children
Anyone who has already traveled to New Zealand without children can visit the country with children in a more relaxed manner and enjoy places that are overlooked or even avoided when childless. If you are in New Zealand yourself for the first time with your children, you naturally have to find a compromise between your “must see spots” and “places that are fun for the children”. Our compilation is completely subjective and above all presents the places that we only really discovered for ourselves with children. Of course, there are many more places in New Zealand that you can visit with children. But a large amount of them is already known, i.e. the great museums, above all the Te Papa in Wellington and all forms of animal watching, which have excited us long before we had children. So here are our top 10 of our new discoveries put together for you:
Rank 10: Restaurants with a Bouncy Castle in the Garden
We are hungry and the supplies are almost empty. The remains no longer elicit anyone from their child seat. It is clear to us parents: either we have to interrupt our journey to go to a supermarket in the city center and then quickly cook something, or we have to eat out. We are not enthusiastic about either of these options, because today we are keen to make a little distance. Shopping and cooking with hungry children are anything but fun and take time that we didn’t plan for. Once inside the supermarket the kids have to pull themselves together after the long journey, even though they feel like romping around. But for the same reason, the idea of a cramped café creates just as much anxiety.
There it is all of a sudden, as if sent from heaven: a restaurant, still outside the confines of the nearby city. It is a spacious location in the middle of an even more spacious meadow. On top of all there is a huge bouncy castle, which is already being jumped on by a few children. Tables are in some distance away, but also within sight of the bouncy castle. We can`t help but be excited! Under no circumstances would we have stayed in this place without our children. We probably would have shaken our heads at the people stuffing themselves with chips instead of eating something classier or just cooking themselves. Now though, everything turns out to be very different. We park in the spacious parking lot (our family clan would have had a more difficult time elsewhere) and take one of the tables near the bouncy castle. There are dishes that satisfy both children and adults. We parents spend the waiting time talking to each other! In peace! The children bounce or crawl in the grass. After eating we even let ourselves be carried away to drinking a coffee, which we do completely undisturbed except for a few toilet visits. Terrific!
We don't care that the restaurant is housed in a kind of barn with a view on a small thoroughfare and the not exactly aesthetic bouncy castle. What would be our benefits of a creatively designed restaurant, where all we do is watch out for our children not touching anything and in the end we just stuff in the creative meal as quickly as possible in order to cope with still hungry children who just don't like the ordered asparagus soufflé?
Rank 9: Campsites with Washing Machines, Kitchen and Playground
Maybe it's just us, maybe other families are feeling the same? It could never be basic enough for us when we were without children. No other people, no crowded campsites with paved paths, washing machines and playgrounds. If we only had forest, meadows or beaches around us, everything was fine. We also love these places with children very much, but every few days we now love the luxury of a real campsite. The children have something to do immediately. They swarm out in the safely fenced, small world of the campsite. You will find playgrounds, trampolines and other kids to play with, while we get a moment of silence. It’s nice to live together in a motorhome for five weeks, but you don’t have much time for just yourself. Such breaks were more frequent when we stayed in the previously consistently avoided facilities rather than somewhere in the wild. Our children simply prefer to explore the wild, the unknown nature when being accompanied by us parents. On the contrary, they can handle campsites on their own. In addition, the children sometimes get on each other's nerves if they are only supposed to play with each other. Other children cause less arguments which in turn costs us less nerves.
You had a pee accident? The food got spilled on a t-shirt? It is raining outside and the space inside camper is little? A washing machine, dryer, lounge or a kitchen outside the camper enables you to react all relaxed here. Nevertheless, we were always drawn to seclusion after three nights at the latest. Without children we would never have understood the meaning and the beauty of such campsites.
Facilities that we visited and that served the purpose described above well:
Campsite in Raglan (a real camping village, great playground on the premises, downtown Raglan very close)
Campsite in Kawhia (not a big facility, but everything you need, very friendly owners)
Campsite in Wanaka (there are several places in quick succession, they had space for us; the trampoline and the pool were well received by the kids. We were not accepted at a place a bit closer to Paihia because of the three children)
Campsite Paihia (is a bit outside, but is very child-friendly and much nicer than the place in Waitangi).
Of course, there are countless other campsites of this type and we have not visited and compared them all. There are certainly more beautiful ones than the ones we presented here. All we want is to give you a few examples that we surely know firsthand.
Rank 8: New Plymouth and the “Festival of Lights”
We only came to New Plymouth with children, probably because we basically avoided larger cities when childless. The choice between any wild multi-day tour or a visit to this nice little town was always in favor of the hike. With three children and only one of whom is old enough for serious hiking, we have decided to visit the city for the first time - and have not looked back! The "Festival of Lights", which is held in January in the city's botanical garden, was particularly beautiful. The garden is spectacularly lit and the roam not only inspires the children. Definitely a place that you should visit even without children if you can find some time between all the natural wonders.
Rank 7: Playgrounds
Granted, it's really no longer a secret, but the playgrounds in New Zealand are really as great as everyone claims. Creatively designed, with ever different devices, never just the classic combination of a swing, a seesaw and a slide. When we used to live in Christchurch we also loved going to the playground around the corner as adults. When traveling around the country, however, we rarely (or never) arranged our breaks so that we could visit playgrounds. That has changed and our experience with playgrounds in New Zealand has grown rapidly. Today we know what we used to suspect: The supposedly great playground in New Brighton was just a vapid foretaste of what New Zealand really has to offer in terms of playgrounds. Without children we might never have encountered that.
Two really big ones:
Margaret Mahy Playground, Christchurch (just type it into the search engine and marvel at the pictures)
We also had a lot of fun on the Raglan Community Playground, which has separate areas for large and very small children and is located directly on the city beach.
Such giants exist in many larger cities, but what really impressed us is the fact that even the smallest place in the remotest corner had a decent playground that was exciting in its smallest way. There was always something you have never seen before.
There are so many good playgrounds that you should just explore them yourself!
Rank 6: Hikes That Are Not So Well Known
The reason for this discovery is the same as for almost everything listed here: the really well-known places and activities are often too demanding to be experienced with children. So, we also looked for feasible alternatives during the hikes. And we made a lot of beautiful discoveries! Instead of striving for the summit of the Taranaki we went on various smaller tours around it, found great little bathing creeks and climbed over stones through marvelous stream beds. Despite high season we were often all alone. The normal tourists have gone all the popular ways that were all too long for us. This other way of hiking was also nice for us parents, because we experienced nature in much more detail and practically turned over every little stone. I could now write the same thing about Franz Josef or Mount Cook, about Wanaka or any other place. Due to our children we regularly left the beaten track and encountered many new things in places we already knew.
Rank 5: The North Island
Of course, we also liked the North Island before we had kids. Through our home base in Christchurch (we lived here for 5 years), we used to be on the South Island much more often though. Most tourists also plan significantly more time for the South Island than for the North Island. As is well known, the south is more spectacular and varied. However, there you also find more sand flies and uncomfortable winds, which can literally spoil your bathing day on the beach. Of course, this is neither always nor everywhere the case! You can say for sure that the North Island offers you places that invite you to linger. There are numerous cozy beaches and a lot more unagitated, beautiful and small beach towns that have a little more charm than the classic combination of supermarket, petrol station, hardware store, i-Site and Fish'n Chips hop that you can find often on the South Island in between two town signs. Since we had allowed extra time when travelling with our children, we were able to fully enjoy these advantages of the North Island.
Rank 4: Abel Tasman National Park
We had walked our way through the Abel Tasman National Park before we had our children. Back then we hopped into the water here and there, but most of the time we walked. The park left us with an impression of a very beautiful and idyllic landscape, which even on a multi-day tour does not offer much variation though. It was nice, but not spectacular. With the children we settled on one of the wonderful golden beaches for ten days and really enjoyed the feeling of vacation. Every day we walked from the accommodation to the beach, where went bathing, dug and romped for hours. We were able to enjoy three days of heavy rain sitting in the hot pool. Smaller hikes through the beautiful forest, feeding eels, boating and watching cicadas gave the days a little extra program. Between the rather quick move before and after, this phase was really restful. We have learned that the Abel Tasman National Park indeed does not have the super surprise around every corner, but it does have the most beautiful bays. If you are looking for a place on the South Island to interrupt the road trip and really let your mind wander, the Abel Tasman National Park is just perfect!
Rank 3: The Hot Beach in Kawhia
You don't get to Kawhia by accident. The small town is a little south of Raglan at the end of a rather long and winding road. There is little to see in Kawhia, however, there is a campsite (Kawhia Lodge) which is also unspectacular, but is managed by the friendliest people that you can only imagine. Furthermore, not far from this dreamy place, there is a beach which - with its dark sand - provides a wonderful backdrop for what you can experience there: armed with a shovel and some knowledge of the area you can transform the beach into a landscape of hot bathing pools at low tide. This phenomenon is known from the Hot Water Beach, which is literally overrun by visitors.
Rank 2: Raglan
Raglan with kids was just fantastic! Since we did not feel like driving around every day and after a while in more remote regions felt like we wanted to live in a rather urban environment, once in Raglan we decided for the more expensive, centrally located campsite (see above for campsite recommendations). From here you have the opportunity to walk into the little town center nearby. The path from the campsite to the city center initially leads through a park with two playground areas and a skate park, so that some of our strolls to the town center already ended here. Then there is this bridge that you have to cross to find yourself in the city center. However, the bridge is a sight in itself, because it has evolved to a kind of popular sport to jump into the water from there. Watching the hopping people became one of our favorite pastimes, especially since the sandy beach is right next to the bridge, where you can also enjoy splashing, swimming and digging as a non-jumper. If you have somehow made it to the town despite the playgrounds, the beach and the bridge, you will be greeted with a hustle and bustle. The center basically only consists of a busy street, from which leave a few alleys that still have something small to offer. Overall, however, it is a very manageable place. There are nice shops, varied cafes, some restaurants, kebab shops or Indian takeaway, as well as an incredible number of people who enjoy themselves and spread a happy and relaxed atmosphere. Due to the short distances to the city and the wide culinary offer, it was always very nice for us to stroll through Raglan with children. City life in small was what we used to call it. And when the children had enough of shops and food, the bridge, the beach, the playground and the camping site were not far out of reach. For us, Raglan is the ideal place to spend a few days with children in civilization and to enjoy yourself in a relaxed manner. Without children one might prefer the larger cities for an urban experience, with children Raglan is clearly the better choice for us. However, the sidewalks are rolled up outside of main season when there is still a lot going on in Wellington, Auckland or Tauranga.
Platz 1: Te Paki Sand Dunes
Te Paki is very far up in the northern part of the North Island, just before you reach Cape Reinga. If you are traveling with children the question might arise, whether it is necessary to drive all the way to the northern tip. After all, there are a few kilometers beyond the standard tourist route that you have to cover in your vehicle. For us, the north was definitely worth the trip. The kids were less thrilled about Cape Reinga, mainly because of the heat and the fact that you are not allowed to eat or drink there. They were exhausted and thirsty and did not quite understand why they had to walk this distance just because of a small, white tower. Therefore, we wanted to end the day with something child-friendly and drove to the nearby sand dunes. The dunes are really impressive in size standing there remotely in the middle of nowhere. The climb through the deep sand was much more strenuous than the short way to the Cape, but we heard no complaints here. Once at the top, we were all impressed by the view of the enormous masses of sand that surrounded us. At first carefully, then more and more courageously the children (and ourselves) slid down the dunes on borrowed boards. It felt like sledding in summer. The late afternoon was the ideal time on this hot day to really have fun in this sandy desert. In retrospect, Te Paki was elected to be one of the most beautiful experiences the children had made on the whole trip. However, you have to know that injuries occur here and there, so sandboarding is not entirely safe and children need clear rules about what they can and cannot do.